The flu shot is safe for pregnant women and their babies, says study

The study reviewed records of more than 400,000 babies, from birth to six months.

The flu shot is safe for pregnant women and their babies, says study

When we're pregnant we're super cautious about everything we do to our bodies. I've been there, in a nurse's office, with three inches of undyed roots, asking if it was safe to use nail polish. We do everything possible to protect the little babies growing within us, so it's understandable that some mothers have been hesitant to get the flu shot while pregnant.

But research is bringing good news as we head into flu season: Getting the flu vaccine while pregnant poses no risk to the baby (and experts say it will even protect them).

A recent study, published in the journal Pediatrics, saw researchers review records of more than 400,000 babies, from birth to six months.

“It's a very large study that looks at very many pregnant woman and could not find adverse effects among them, or among their infants," Dr. Elizabeth Barnett, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Infectious Diseases and Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, tells Motherly.

Barnett says she understands how mothers, their partners and their families can feel anxious about vaccines during pregnancy, and hopes seeing this study will put some minds at ease because the flu shot is recommended to protect both mama and baby. “For pregnant women, whenever there's some exposure that's new, or something that you're going to put into your body when you're carrying a baby, everything is thought about in a different way," she explains.

“It is normal to be concerned and interested in whether a vaccine could have an adverse effect, and certainly we do know that there are vaccines that are not recommended during pregnancy, but this is not one of those vaccines. This is a vaccine that's been studied during pregnancy and shown to be effective at reducing flu complications for pregnant women and babies and therefore is not in the same category as unstudied or novel exposures."

Barnett's comments are echoed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). A representative for the ACOG directed Motherly to a statement that reads, in part:

“ACOG continues to recommend that all women receive the influenza vaccine. This is particularly important during pregnancy. Influenza vaccination is an essential element of prenatal care because pregnant women are at an increased risk of serious illness and mortality due to influenza. In addition, maternal vaccination is the most effective strategy to protect newborns because the vaccine is not approved for use in infants younger than six months."

The ACOG and the CDC both state that while another (CDC-funded) study published last year did show that for women early in their pregnancies who received two consecutive annual flu shots during 2010-11 and 2011-12, there was an increased risk of miscarriage in the 28 days after receiving the second vaccine. The CDC is currently investigating those results further, with the followup results expected this year or next, because the results of that one study conflict with many other studies that have shown women who've gotten the flu shot during pregnancy have not had a higher risk of miscarriage.

That's why the ACOG and the CDC recommend flu shots for pregnant women, because the research shows they are safe, and this new study backs up that previous work. The flu can be pretty serious for pregnant people, and complications can result in hospitalization. Experts say getting the shot is worth it, and that pregnant women don't need to fear it.

“The benefit of getting a flu vaccine during pregnancy is that it protects first, the pregnant woman who can be at greater risk for complications from the flu during pregnancy, and second [it protects] the infant," Barnett explains.

And really, protecting the baby is what all pregnant mamas want.

[This post was originally published March 1, 2018. It has been updated.]

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